Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

A Different Look At The Artifacts We Digitized In 2014

January 21, 2015 Archive Insight

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about The Henry Ford is that we are “a car museum.” Certainly, automobiles and related material form one of our core strengths, but our collections also cover the entire breadth of American history.  Our ongoing project to digitize our collection and make it available online really demonstrates both sides of this coin: our vast and deep collections covering autos and auto racing, and then the wide breadth of other material documenting the American experience.

In that vein, instead of doing a typical “year in review” post for our digitization efforts in 2014, I played around with our collections database and came up with some interesting facts and figures about the portions of our collection that we digitized over the last year.  I hope you’ll agree that the details below reveal the deep strengths of our collections, as well as their breadth—and that they encourage you to spend some time browsing our digital collections as well!

1. During the course of 2014, we added 12,874 new artifacts to our digital collections. We increased the number of artifacts online by nearly 57% in one year!

2. Seventy-seven percent of the new objects we added were photographs, while 15% were objects, and 7% were documents. The majority of the photographs came from the Dave Friedman auto racing collection, while many of the objects digitized were completed as part of our IMLS grant funded communications project.

3. Eighty-three percent of the material we digitized in 2014 lives in the archival stacks of the Benson Ford Research Center. A little over 1% (or 178 objects) are on display in the Henry Ford Museum; less than 1% (89 objects) are on display in Greenfield Village.  The remaining 15% (1,908 objects) are in storage or administrative locations—these are objects the public would not get to see, were it not for digitization.  We also digitized four objects on display at the Ford Rouge Factory Tour (the cars)!

1: Current location of all artifacts digitized in 2014

4. Nearly 2/3 of the material we digitized during 2014 (8,074 objects) was added to the collections of The Henry Ford during the 21st century (e.g., in the last 14 years). We also digitized 815 objects added to the collection during the 1960s, and 701 objects added to the collections in the 1930s—back in Henry Ford’s time.  About 15% of the material we digitized in 2014 is considered “found in the collections”—we haven’t yet determined when it officially came to The Henry Ford.

2: Artifacts digitized in 2014 by the decade they were added to the collection.

5. The four subject terms most frequently applied to artifacts from our collection digitized in 2014 are Automobile racing (7,588), Automobiles (6,692), Sports cars (4,055), and Indy cars (2,922). The next 20 most commonly used terms for objects digitized in 2014 are shown in the graphic below.

3: The fifth through twenty-fifth most common subjects we used for artifacts we digitized in 2014.

6. There are 2,583 subjects we only used once in 2014. Some examples of these, linked to the particular item for which we used them, are: Cider, Convenience foods, Dyes and dyeing, Foxes, Ice Industry, Kewpie art, Liquor stores, Progressive rock music, Space stations, Super Mario Bros. (Game), Taxidermy, Zebra, and Zigzags.

7. Most of the material we digitized in 2014 belongs to a collection, or subset (usually archival) of the overall holdings of The Henry Ford. By far the collection we digitized the most from this year is Dave Friedman (7,302 artifacts), but we also digitized significant amounts from Edison Institute photographs, Jenny Young Chandler collection, Photographic vertical file series, Phil Harms collection, Bobby Unser papers, John Burroughs papers, and the General Photographs series, as well as 82 other collections.

4: Archival collections from which we digitized material in 2014.

8. The types of material we digitized in 2014 were mostly different varieties of images: digital images, photographic prints, photographic negatives, and slides. The most common types of objects digitized besides images were buttons, postcards, posters, prints, letters, trade catalogs, rewards of merit, dresses, brochures, and soap packaging.  There were 362 objects that were the sole item of their type digitized during 2014—these include (each linked to that one lonely object we digitized last year) bayonet, cigarettes, Erector Set (TM), game console, opera hat, poem, spittoon, stroboscope, tape player, teakettle, tusk, weathervane, and wedding dress.

9. We know the creation location for 3,069 of the artifacts we digitized this year. Given our American focus, it’s no surprise that most (nearly 92%) were created in the United States.  The states that created the most items we digitized in 2014 are New York (932), Michigan (468), New Jersey (161), California (142), Pennsylvania (141), Massachusetts (140) and Illinois (136).

5: Number of artifacts digitized in 2014 from each state.

10. For objects digitized this year where we know the date (or date range) of creation, about 2/3 were created during the 20th The earliest-created objects we digitized this year were two possible 16th century firearms, and the most recently created were 57 photos of our newly acquired Apple 1 computer being delivered and unpacked on November 25, 2014.

11. The objects we digitized in 2014 have over 1,600 known creators, the most common being various departments of Ford Motor Company (537), Jenny Young Chandler (393), Dave Friedman (330), and us, The Henry Ford (235). Three-quarters of the creators of artifacts digitized this year were only used on one object the entire year.

6: The 25 most common creators of artifacts digitized by The Henry Ford in 2014.

12. Beyond the creator, we also track other individuals associated with objects. The people associated with the most artifacts we digitized this year are: John Burroughs, Henry Ford, Bobby Unser, Thomas Alva Edison, Dan Gurney, Elizabeth Parke Firestone, Rosa Parks, and William Clay Ford.

7: People associated with five or more artifacts digitized in 2014.

13. The most common materials for objects digitized in 2014 are paper, glass, wood, steel, metal, cardboard, linen, brass, plastic, and rubber. 143 materials only showed up once in objects digitized this year—these include amethyst, bloodstone, excelsior, hide, kraft paper, linoleum, mercury, onyx, polyvinyl chloride, and tinfoil (click the links to see the one object digitized this year of each material).

8: Materials used in two or more artifacts digitized in 2014.

14. The organizations associated with the most objects digitized in 2014 are related to auto racing—over 9,200 objects digitized last year relate to one of these seven: Indianapolis 500 (Automobile race), Riverside International Raceway, Sports Car Club of America, Canadian-American Challenge Cup, 24 Hours of Le Mans (Automobile race), Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (Monterey, Calif.), and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indianapolis, Ind.). However, it’s also noteworthy to mention that we also digitized a lot of material about our own history at Henry Ford (Organization), and particularly a subset about Greenfield Village.

I hope this whets your appetite to spend some time enjoying our digitized artifacts—all 35,000+ of them!  In looking back at our work during 2014, we also wanted to thank everyone who uses and enjoys our online collections—you are why we do what we do.  We look forward to sharing more of our digitization efforts in 2015!

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.  Charts and data visualizations presented in this blog post were created with IBM’s Many Eyes, Enideo’s Word It Out, and Microsoft’s Excel 2013.

Racing In America

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